News Leadership 3.0

July 08, 2008

Star-Telegram sports online

Fort Worth’s high school site
attracts users and revenue

Successful online ventures identify and tap into community passions. The Fort Worth Star-Telegram has created a megasite for high school sports and is riding a wave of popularly and building revenue. I asked Ellen Alfano, Deputy Executive Editor/Vice President for Online at the Star-Telegram about the site, www.dfwvarsity.com, and the result is this guest post:

By Ellen Alfano

High school football is more than a tradition in Texas - it is an integral part of our culture. The Star-Telegram devotes a lot of resources and space to Friday night football. So three years ago, the Sports department and IS department began working on a super web site that would connect us to those readers who are fanatical about “Friday Night Lights.”

We created a home page for every high school team that we cover - nearly 100 - and have continued to improve the functionality as well as the number of high school sports that are part of the site. The site includes team photos, results, statistics, schedules, recruiting updates, player information, message boards and score alerts, as well as blogs and interactive pages for uploading user generated photos and videos. We have expanded the concept to include girls and boys basketball, soccer, baseball, softball and volleyball.

The staff that produces the content for dfwVarsity is a small army of sports staffers, correspondents and employees from different areas of the newspaper. This is the same group that covers games for the newspaper, only they file for the Web site after each quarter of a game and immediately after the game is over. The only additional people we have devoted to this project are programmers. There were a few missteps along the way, most of them involving the programming.  We are currently working on the third version of the software and we have a web developer from IS working with a newsroom web developer to finish the newest version.

Anyone who is considering a site like this needs to have a project leader who understands sports and agate as well as web development. Developers who worked on the site but didn’t understand sports left us with a table structure that was not flexible enough to allow us to adapt it to additional sports.

The one area that has never been an issue is the popularity of dfwVarsity.com. The site had more than 3 millon page views last year. It has also been a revenue-producer from the beginning. We began with a sponsor who paid $12,000. This year we will produce almost $200,000 in revenue.

Last year’s dfwvarsity site, including the videos, brought in $5,000 a month in revenue. The video was not specifically targeted. We quickly realized that was too low. This year, the main sponsorship was sold to Chevrolet for $10,000 a month for 10 months

One feature of the site is a weekly video program during the football season that just won an Emmy. More about that program later this week.

June 23, 2008

Link: The Big Picture

At Boston.com, a programmer
develops a compelling photo blog
How do you tap ideas from non-journalist staff?

Boston.com has started a terrific photo blog, The Big Picture, to much acclaim. Check out how The Big Picture covers Mars discoveries, the Celtics’ NBA Championship, or Iowa flooding.

Worth reading, too, is this interview with Alan Taylor, the Web programmer who came up with the idea and produces the blog.

That a programmer could be doing journalism at a big outfit like The Boston Globe is an encouraging sign that old-school journalists (and I’m one of them) are opening up to new ideas from outside the traditional club.

Some newsroom leaders have mentioned to me that they have trouble attracting good programmers because of all the bad financial news about the news industry. Taylor offers this counterpoint:

“Yeah, I had a lot of friends who looked at me like i was crazy when I joined the Boston Globe a few years ago. But it’s precisely this sort of opportunity I was hoping for. The access to great storytelling resources, a great platform, and the ability to contribute to that, albeit in a more technical role. I saw the opportunity and ran with it, with everyone’s blessing. It’s a very hard question—how to attract programmers to journalism roles. For me, it’s just far more interesting than, say, working on a massive financial services backend system.”

How does your organization attract programming talent? Can programmers help reshape journalism in the digital age? Please share your thoughts in the comments.

(Thanks to Howard Weaver for the pointer.)

June 17, 2008

Vaulting into video

In Newark, a television vacuum offers
the newspaper a video opportunity

“What do you think, can a newspaper newsroom produce quality web TV?” That’s a question posed by John Hassell on his exploding newsroom blog. And Hassell and his colleagues at The Star-Ledger and NJ.com in Newark are about to find out.

The Star-Ledger newsroom recently launched an aggressive strategy to grow audience with news and enterprise video.

“We want to produce great video journalism in New Jersey and to showcase local video of all sorts, whether it’s produced by our staff or not. New Jersey has been traditionally under served by the local network TV outlets in New York and Philadelphia, and that presents an incredible opportunity to build audience and revenue around video content,” Hassell says.

To get started, the newsroom invested in HDV cameras and intensive boot camp training for 20 veejays in May. Within the first few days of training, participants were producing video and Hassell says the quality is improving all the time.

“We believe quality is key when you’re talking about telling stories with video. Our newly trained veejays are still cutting their teeth, but the level of their work is already quite high and rising every week. The visuals should be compelling, the writing taut and the arc of story clearly drawn. Storytelling is really at the heart of what we’re doing, and we feel we bring a lot to the table. All of that said, there is also plenty of room for short clips where production and storytelling values give way to the simple act of witnessing something newsworthy, fascinating or just plain weird.”

The training also attempted to address and help avoid post-production logjams that many newsrooms have experienced in the rush to video.

Hassell explains in an interview with “Newspapers & Technology:”

“The class teaches students how to bridge the gap between gathering news intended for both video and print distribution, Hassell said.

‘What a lot of people do is when they first get a video camera and are sent out to shoot video they come back with a lot of video and that creates an inefficient post-production result because you get back and have three hours of footage that you have to watch and edit,’ said Hassell. ‘We are teaching people how to think about what they need to shoot for the story they want to tell so that the process of producing video stories’ becomes more efficient.’‘

The newsroom also shifted three print-oriented journalists to manage the new video enterprise: AME/Video, with overall responsibility for video efforts; Video Enterprise Editor, with a mandate to keep the standards high; and a new veejay who becomes a full-time producer and host of the daily noon web cast that launches next month.

You can link to a recent progress report on the effort by Hassell here and to one example of a new veejay’s work here.

Hassell says it’s too early to tell whether the video strategy is paying off.

“We’ll judge ourselves on the quality of our work, the traffic it generates, the revenue it produces and the extent to which we can build and nurture a network of New Jerseyans who are making and sharing video. It’s early to judge the results, because we only recently launched a video platform at NJ.com, but the viewership trends and number of user submissions are encouraging.”

 

June 11, 2008

Tracking Twitter

A Web site lists newsrooms
that are “tweeting” the news
Are you on Twitter?

Twitter, the micro-blogging service that enables people to send small messages or “tweets” to people who sign up as their “followers,” is taking hold in the news industry. Reporters are using it to consult with sources and experts. Howard Weaver at McClatchy recently reported how The Wichita Eagle tweeted a criminal trial. Michael Arrieta-Walden at The Oregonian (my alma mater) reports the newsroom has used Twitter effectively, including reporting on Clinton and Obama appearances in Oregon in advance of the primary election. Other newsrooms, including The Sacramento Bee, have automatic news feeds on Twitter.
Now graphic designer Erica Smith has created a site that is tracking news organizations offering twitter feeds and the numbers of people who are following them. The numbers are small but it’s still a healthy sign of experimentation with new ways of delivering the news.
It’s easy (and free) to check it out. Even if you don’t want to “tweet,” you can follow others to get acquainted with Twitter. I’ve been on it a few weeks. I don’t post much but I am following 15 people, mostly journalism innovators, and picking up a sense of the flow and the possibilities.
(Note: Funny line from David Cohn - “The people who follow you on Twitter are your tweeple.”)
Is your organization using Twitter to gather or disseminate news? Please tell us about it in comments.

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ABOUT THIS BLOG

Exploring innovation, transformation and leadership in a new ecosystem of news, by journalist and change advocate Michele McLellan.

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